Why is Corned Beef & Cabbage More Popular than America's Favorite Department Store?
I Hate Corned Beef and Cabbage.
I'm sure that some cardinal sin, me being Irish and all, but I just can't help it.
Leave it to the Irish to take a perfectly good piece of meat, throw in lettuces less tasty cousin, and boil the hell out of it until it resembles shoe leather, then slap it on a plate with some effervescent bread.
Now I'm only teasing my Irish kin. While I'm not too fond of corned beef and cabbage, the meal holds an important place in mine and many Irish family's St. Patrick's Day Traditions. The meal itself was born of the abject poverty most Irish Americans lived in when they first emigrated to this country. Too poor to afford bacon for the traditional St. Pat's feast, the emigres settled for the least expensive cut of meat, the beef brisket, and the least expensive vegetable, the cabbage.
While it may be tradition alone that keeps corned beef and cabbage on our tables every March 17th, there are still millions of home chefs searching for the best corned beef and cabbage recipes online.
Perhaps they are trying to make the most out of a dismal situation.
The top corned beef and cabbage recipe on allrecipes.com has around thirteen hundred reviews and a five-star rating. Compare that to my local department store: 800 reviews and a 4.1-star rating.
Now before you call me silly for comparing recipes and retailers, I'll have you know that I spent far too long researching this article, and in that research, I found an unmistakable trend.
Corned beef and cabbage recipes consistently outpace department store retailers in consumer reviews.
How on earth could people honestly like corned beef and cabbage more than department stores?
The Good Ol' Days.
Let's take a step back in time and remember the department store glory days. It's easter 1994, and your family is heading down to the store in your Sunday best to take an easter photo for Grandma. Whether your a kid or an adult in this scenario, there is something to look forward to.
They have a tool section for dad, the latest fashions for mom and sis, and a toy selection to end all toy selections. If you couldn't find what you were looking for, oh well, at least there's a food court and arcade both within walking distance. Ah, what a lovely picture;
Let's fast forward a few years. It's 1998, and Walmart mania has swept the country.
The era of the big box store is on the rise. This should be great for the likes of major department store chains, but it isn't. People aren't going to the mall as much anymore. They prefer the convenience of getting to do all of their shopping (groceries included) done at one store. Match that with their everyday low prices and regular price rollbacks, and you have an irresistible off to the bargain-hungry shoppers department stores had grown accustomed to serving. All is not lost though Walmart doesn't carry name-brand clothes, tools, and even some toys. Not to mention their quality is suspect. I had two Walmart bikes break within an hour of riding them as a child.
Department stores just needed to recalibrate to the modern consumer. Perhaps moving upmarket with their advertising or adding in-store services not available at their big-box competitors will be their ticket back to the top. Regardless there is still time to fix what is, at this point, a simple positioning problem.
Into the time warp, we go again, this time arriving in 2012. Department stores have not been doing well. Stores are becoming visibly more dilapidated as shoppers continue to move online. But there is good news on the horizon! The board of one particular chain brought on a new CEO, who just launched with a new advertising campaign with no other than Ellen Degeneres cheerleading a radical new message "No more coupons, no more doorbusters, no more gimmicks.
As shoppers continued to abandon department stores, their audience distilled into a devoted group of enthusiastic bargain-hungry shoppers who would crowd around the entrance on doorbuster days to scoop up Levi's for $12 a pair.
Department stores failed to realize that the gimmick was the only thing keeping these loyalists coming back day after day, week after week, year after year. They had lost all other value in the consumer's minds. It wasn't the convenience: there were other retailers much closer; it wasn't the amenities; department stores cut many of their in-store services as foot traffic waned in the early 2000s; It certainly wasn't the product: by now, Walmart, target and even Kmart had begun carrying the name brand products shoppers were seeking.
Their only value in the customer's mind was the price. Department stores are the poster child for the discounter's dilemma in action.
What Can Small Businesses Learn From the Failure of Department Stores
There are three key lessons department stores can teach all small business owners.
Know your Market: Once your business finds a measure of lasting success, it can be easy to forget who your core customers are as you chase growth. Ensure you continually evaluate your core audience's demographics and preferences before you plan outreach to new markets. You don't want to put out messaging that would make your core audience feel that your business is no longer catering to their needs. For example, say your core audience is new mothers with babies in tow. But you're hoping to attract a younger hipper audience. You probably don't want to advertise your store with the tag line "Now with Louder Music" You'll just end up alienating your loyal audience, who will go find a quieter place to shop.
Always be differentiating: Early on, department stores had opportunities to set their products and service apart from Big box stores and online retailers. While hindsight is 2020, and we've yet to build a computer that can tell the future, you should always be reading the tea leaves in your market and planning your next move. Keep a careful eye on both your competitors and the market in general. Is there a new trend that you can be the first to jump on? Is there a burgeoning market that you can be the first to serve? How can you position your business to stand out from what your competitors offer? Don't let good times make you lazy. Make hay while the sun shines.
Don't play the discount game: This is the most important I hope you take away from this article. The discounter dilemma is real; here is the pattern it always follows: You start a business, you decide the best way to get your first customers is to distribute coupons to your local area. Like magic, it works, and soon you are filled to capacity! Success never tasted so sweet. But it doesn't last long, soon the mad rush on your business slows down, and in a panic, you decide, "I need another coupon program." So you distribute more coupons. It works! But this time, you're not filling your store as you did for your grand opening. As the crowd starts to wane again, you launch yet another discount program, but this time, you offer more even more deals, new specials, and even more coupons. With each iteration, you effectively train your audience to respond to price, not to the quality or value of the service you are providing. The business owner always loses in a discounter dilemma as there is always someone willing to go out of business faster by marking their prices lower.
In the last ten year, a lot has changed about the way we shop. The era of the shopping mall is slowly fading away, going into one today you won't find much. Mostly hollowed out stores, congressmen's offices, and perhaps a startup taking advantage of the cheap real estate and a quiet environment.
Luckily that sad reality isn't reflected in the overall state of small business. Pandemic aside, there has never been a better time to start a small business. New boutiques, shops, and restaurants are opening every day to cater to a newly created market tired of crowds at big box stores and looking for ways to support the businesses in their communities.
I know that right now, a year after this pandemic started and with no clear end in sight, you might not be feeling the sunshine of this new day. But I can promise you it is coming. When it arrives, you need to be ready for it.
Take some time today and re-evaluate your position in the market. What can you do in the next six weeks to make sure you have the best summer your business has ever seen. If you need help, we're here. For $99/month, we'll help you avoid the pitfalls and show you avenues of growth you might not have considered. Best of all, unlike other marketing agencies, we don't force our clients to eat corned beef and cabbage more than once a year.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!